It was high noon when the alert was raised in the Southern Highlands village of Balmoral.
Within an hour houses were under threat. Residents in Yanderra, near Balmoral, were urged to move towards Bargo while Balmoral residents were advised to seek shelter as the fire neared.
Rural Fire Service (RFS) spokesman Joel Kursawe said the Balmoral fire was moving extremely quickly. ‘‘They’re saying that one house is already alight, that could be because the house was alight and it’s spread, or not, we don’t know,’’ he told reporters. ‘‘It’s all happened very quickly.’’
Five fire trucks and 24 crew members from the Illawarra RFS rushed to Balmoral to assist in fighting the blaze.
Not long after, Illawarra firefighters starting fielding calls from residents worrying about the thick layer of smoke hanging over the region.
For a while the sky turned black and the sun glowed a fierce red as the smoke drifted towards the coast.
Then at 2pm a blaze broke out in a South Nowra tyre factory, quickly spreading to nearby grassland. A emergency warning was issued for residents in the Quinns Road, Browns Road, Old Southern Road and the Princes Highway area as crews battled to contain the fire.
Mid-afternoon, thick smoke and fire forced the closure of the Hume Highway between Wilton and Mittagong, stranding hundreds of truckies and motorists.
Traffic was diverted onto the Illawarra Highway and down Macquarie Pass, until a bus blocked the road in both directions. The only other southern alternative, Jamberoo Mountain Road, was closed in one direction due to ongoing roadworks.
Elsewhere in the state, seven major fires were burning under the highest alert level, fuelled by hot conditions and strong winds. By 3pm there were emergency warnings for fires at Lithgow, Camden, Springwood in the Blue Mountains, South Nowra, Port Stephens, Muswellbrook and Balmoral.
An emergency warning was issued late in the afternoon for Bargo and Pheasants Nest, and an earlier warning for Wilton was cancelled.
However, early in the evening Mt Ousley Road was closed at Picton Road, although it was unclear if this was due to smoke or a blaze.
Illawarra Rural Fire Service inspector Michael Gray said it was vital for residents on the coast to prepare for ember attacks from fires burning to the west.
‘‘We still have that westerly wind at the moment - residents need to be mindful of fire for the next few days,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ve had reports today of burning leaves landing on houses near the beaches.
‘‘It’s not just residents who live in the bush under threat.’’